x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Youth versus experience as UAE play Zimbabwe in Cup of Nations

Zimbabwe field a young side, while UAE feature a number of veterans in their team, writes Paul Radley.

Renier Els, left, has been proud of his team who went straight from work to the international against Hong Kong. Mike Young / The National
Renier Els, left, has been proud of his team who went straight from work to the international against Hong Kong. Mike Young / The National

DUBAI // When UAE and Zimbabwe meet this afternoon to decide who takes the wooden spoon in the Cup of Nations, it will be like Dad's Army taking on the Rugrats.

Of Zimbabwe's 25-man tour squad in Dubai, 23 of them are aged 22 or under. The UAE have a new-look team, too - but theirs could never be considered a youth policy.

Brett Bowie, the Saracens prop, will again be the cornerstone of the home side's scrum for his second Test match in four days. Not bad for a 45 year old.

To put his effort into context, Bowie was in the year above Jamie Joseph, the former New Zealand forward, in their university team.

Joseph ended his 30-cap All Blacks career back in 1995 - 17 years before Bowie even started his this week.

And yet he and Chris Burch - another newcomer with years' worth of experience of club rugby before starting internationals this week - were among the leading performers in the national team's improved effort on Tuesday.

"We don't have enough dedicated tight-head props," said Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager, citing the absence of Dan Boatright as a significant loss for the national team in the Cup of Nations.

"Brett wanted to get in there and do it and he did a fantastic job. You want to pick No 3 [Bowie] and No 12 [Burch] as your first players, and they were two of our outstanding players [in the loss to Hong Kong]."

It says much about the travails of the UAE that Tuesday's 51-6 defeat to their Asian rivals was regarded by both teams as a notable achievement by the losing side.

Tom McColl, the captain of the defending champions, was not being patronising when he said the scoreboard flattered his side and that they had been dominated in a variety of facets of the game. It was true, but a 45-point loss is still a 45-point loss.

Renier Els, the outstanding captain who has done so much to repel an unrelenting onslaught in the past two matches, says this Cup of Nations campaign has been "an emotional roller coaster" so far.

"Coming back from a heavy defeat against Belgium [on Saturday], the guys showed some real character," the Abu Dhabi Harlequins loose-forward said.

"I am very proud of the guys. It is hard. On a Tuesday, you clock off work, you rush to get to The Sevens and then you have to play international rugby. It is an emotional roller coaster."

Zimbabwe could consider themselves unfortunate to still be empty-handed at this point of the competition, after two plucky performances in defeats against Hong Kong and Belgium so far.

"We are not used to playing at this level and we are trying to achieve every time we go out to play," said Brendan Dawson, the Zimbabwe coach.

"We have a helluva young bunch of guys with us and it is a learning curve. These players have learnt a lot so far and hopefully we will be able to take that out [against UAE]."

pradley@thenational.ae

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